WITH A PERRY ON TOP: The search for an un–Katy Perry hit leads many directions.
As real summer begins, our writer ponders summertime jams that won't make you puke
By Gabe Meline
SO IT TURNS OUT that the Beach Boys, despite widespread rumor, are not actually suing yeowling bimbo Katy Perry for the line "I really wish you all could be California girls." What they should sue her for, really, as forefathers of the summertime jam, is unleashing such a nauseating hit song on the American public. While the Hollywood blockbuster season for movies is getting smarter (Inception, The Kids Are All Right), "summertime jams" are increasingly the radio equal to Hollywood blockbusters—i.e., full of blatant dippiness and cheap thrills designed for how awesome it makes you feel.
But Perry's "California Gurls," which has spent so much of the summer topping the charts, does not make me feel awesome. What does, especially on the way to the beach, or sharing beers in the sunset, or at a backyard barbecue, is "Dance Yrself Clean," from LCD Soundsystem, which bank-shots off every border of "summertime jam" to redefine the term. A rant against friends who suffer from diarrhea of the mouth ("Talking like a jerk/ Except you are an actual jerk"), the track explodes three minutes in with thick analog-synth blasts and dirty, dirty high-hats, owing to Talking Heads and Freddie Mercury while paving nine minutes of a future disco.
That's just one. From Inglewood, Cali Swag District brings us the dance-craze "Teach Me How to Dougie," a razor-thin hip-hop hit hanging on an infectious, simple beat that first made waves in underground circles late last year. Capitol Records cleaned out the bad words and rereleased it this May; it still sounds ultrafresh, and continues to inspire uploaded dance videos of 4-year-olds dancing the dougie in the driveway.
Dancing finds a lonely space in Robyn's "Dancing on My Own," an instant contagion advisable to avoid if you don't want it stuck in your head for the next month. Cribbing Billy Idol's "Dancing With Myself" concept, the song finds Robyn (a former Swedish teen-pop star whose new album opens with a song titled "Don't Fucking Tell Me What to Do") self-assured on the dance floor even while the object of her affection goes home with someone else. And Lord, the hooks are insane.
Is there any hit more tailor-made for summertime status than "Tightrope," by Janelle Monae? A rebuke to haters through deft dance moves and killer cadences sung in Monae's Aretha-like voice, the song tacks on two minutes of call-and-response shouts, horn riffs, ukulele breaks and strings well past the usual three-minute mark; it's also the rare song with a Big Boi verse where the Bog Boi verse isn't the highlight. Listen to it once and be transformed.
Transformation is the game on M.I.A.'s new album, nowhere more so than in "Steppin' Up," with its rhythmic cacophony of lugnut drills; it manages to make the ridiculous phrase "subb-a-sub-a-sub-sub" sound ill. Similarly, sampling Annie Lennox's "No More I Love Yous" is a terrible idea on paper; Nicki Minaj owns it for "Your Love." ("Bloody hell," M.I.A. recently quipped, "Nicki Minaj runs things.") Minaj has been a prolific filthy-guest-verse rapper in the past, and if the slow burn of "Your Love" earns some overdue recognition, it will have justified its existence.
But no summertime jam this year fills the role like "When I'm With You," by Best Coast, a.k.a. Bethany Cosentino. Cosentino loves cats, smokes weed and has a drummer who routinely wears a bunny suit; she's also written the carefree beach party hit of the year. If the Beach Boys can shake any money out of Katy Perry, they'd be wise to kick a chunk to Best Coast for keeping their California dream alive—the sunsets, the sand, the surf and the salvation of sloppily swapping saliva. Summertime!
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